Johnny's world travel blog
WorldLine Group 5, Inc
Johnny Ray's Trading and Travel Company

Home Page
Johnny's travels in Laos and Vietnam in March and April 2011.

April Post
April 2, 2011-Kontum, Vietnam
April 2,2011 Ban me Thout, Vietnam

April 3, 2011 Ban Me Thout, Vietnam
April 4, 2011 Ban Me Thout, Vietnam
April 6, written April 5, 2011 in Hoi An, Vietnam
April 7, 2011 - Night bus to Hanoi
April 8, 2011 - Just some photos of travels
Photos In Hanoi
                 Travel in Vietnam & Laos
March 17- April 10, 2011

Nap in Korea
Hotel in
Lunch at
Bus Stop
Johnny enjoying
the cold
to ENLARGE photo, single click on photo, then to RETURN photo to orignal size, DOUBLE click on photo.

This blog will begin March 15th, when Johnny starts his trip on a Greyhound bus in Albany Georgia.
Okay, back on line. Its been about 12 days since I left Atlanta.
The flight over was a rather unusual one in that it took about 55 hours! Normal is about 24 to 30 hours.
But it was free skymile ticket with Delta at the lowest possible mileage for a trip to Asia, so they kinda routed me around where there was a seat.
I first went to Detroit, and there the connecting flight wasdelayed first by CUSTOMS, the plane has just arrived from Tokyo and apparently was being checked for radiation.
Then we were delayed when a truck serviceing the plane hit a cargo door. That meant they had to get another plane and get it ready for a flight to Tokyo. This was about a 5 hour delay all toll.
Then off to Tokyo for a 13 hour flight.
It was a nice flight, and I missed the day of the March 17th.
I left Detroit at night on the 16th, and it remained dark until we arrived in Tokyo the night of the 18th.
In Tokyo at this time - no one knew what was going to happen at the nuclear plants, and I was supposed to stay over night.,br> I went and checked in with Korean Air (my flight to Seoule Korea), and was told I could leave now if I wanted to, and they recommended it because at midnight all the lights in the terminal went out.
I took them on the offer, and in less than an hour I was aboard a plane leaving Tokyo.

In Seoule I had a 13 hourlayover. However apparently there are a lot of flights with long layovers here, and they have tours that go to various places, depending on how much time you have.
I took the 6 hour tour and enjoyed seeing the korean country side and the city of Seoule.
Then back to the airport for the flight to Hanoi .

I arrived in Hanoi about midnite, and I had arranged for a hotel to pick me up.
Sure enough when I walked out of the terminal, in the crowd of people waiting for passengers was one waiting for Johnny Ray.
When you see a sign like that - it just makes you smile!!!

I will tell the rest on the next blog.
Written March 27, for March 21, 2011

I stayed 2 days in Hanoi. Saturday, my first day, I slept almost all day.
Sunday I went to church with two friends, and after church we all went outfor dinner and had some of the best Bar b Que ribs I have ever had! Delicious.-what a treat.

On Monday I took a taxi at 5:30 in the morning to the bus station to take a bus tothe Vietnamese town of Dien Bien Phu.

This is where the French lost the IndoChina war that ended French colonialism in Southeast Asia.

The bus ride was 12 hours - but a nice ride. It was not a chicken bus, but not a VIP bus either. Lunch was included in my ticket.$15.00.

For lunch a bunch of men all sat at same table - family style. They brought us a bowl, and chop sticks, and the typical little funny spoon, and 6 dishes of things. Plus two large bowls of rice. One dish was collard greens so I lapped up on them!. Then a piece of meat of some kind - tasty, and tender, and then other dishes not bad, but not better than collards and rice , so I kept going back to that, with a little pot liquor poured over it. I was very satisfied.

In Dien Bien Phu, I had to take a hotel room on the 3rd floor. In Hanoi the first night was on the 5th floor, so I moved to another hotel with a room on the second floor.

The stair steps here are KILLER STEPS!

The buildings here are one room wide, and tall. Property tax is on front footage!
For supper I was able to get a very sorry bowl of fried rice. Everyone else was eating noodle soup. I had noodle soup for breakfast the next day.

The bus for the Lao border leaves at 5:30 a.m., and I just did not want to get up early again, and plus, I wanted to see the Dien Bien Phu museum, and the border was only 36 km away.

So I ate breakfast, toured around town, visited the museum, it was very interesting, and about 11 o'clock decided to see what was traveling to the border.

Only motorscooters!,

So I hired one, for 180,000 DONG or about $15.00. (alot more than the bus would have cost).

It took an hour to get to the Vietnam frontier, just scootering along on a dirt road to the border.

From there I thought I would walk over to Laos and then catch a scooter 5 kilometers to Muang Mai. My destination.

Well, at the Vietnam border, the guards told me it was too hard of a walk for me, 7 mountainous kilometers, and I must take a scooter. so- okay- 100,000 Dong!! $10.00. Way too much for a 7 kilometer ride, but I now after years of traveling through these remote border crossings I understand - sometimes it AIN'T even about money, its about survival, and five bucks, well's the Dongs - Lets go.

At the Laotian border (and I'm glad I did not try to walk it) I got there at lunch time. And I had been told at the Vietnam border, there were no rides to the next town. I thought the next town was 5 kilometers away and surely there would be scooters waiting to take people to town.

NOT SO. where I was going was 32 kilometers! and there were no scooters waiting to take people to the next town.

The Laotian customs officials gave me my paper work for a visa, and when I finished filling it all in, they had all gone to lunch. SO..I had a bowl of noodle soup in a little thatched roof shed kitchen next to the parking lot where some truck drivers were eating.
There was one 4x4 that had 4 men in it that was entering Laos at the same time as me. I asked them ,...... please take me with them!!! Turns out they were only going 6 kilometers, and that was to a little tiny village. They said I could go with them, but what I would do then, they did not know.

There was no one else around, so I said I'll go with them where ever. Its got to be better than staying here at the border post over night, and maybe something in 6 kilometers would develop.

Then the man processing my passport, who had heard all this, said you can ride with this man, pointing behind me.

I turned around, and there was a little guy standing there with a smile, shaking his head affimative. His car was already in the inspection booth, ahead of the car I was going to take. (I don't remember seeing another civilian car at the border before that.)

So, I got my VISA, the little man was ready to go, I paid him 50,000 Laotian Kip $6.00 -

He was waiting on me.!?- and we drove off toward Muang Mai, 35 kilometers away over steep mountains, in a nice air conditioned SUV.

I was really going to be in a fix, being stuck between little villages in this remote area in the mountains ... I think the little man was an Angel!

NEXT - On to Muang Mai

From a friend in Vientiane Laos, I had been given the name of a couple living in a small town in Laos who worked for an NGO (non government organization - very common in foreign countries, and mostly operated by American and European non profit organizations)

Alan and Janet live in Muang Mai, my first destination in Laos. I had written Alan and he told me to get off the bus at the Vietnam Restaurant on the left as I came into town.

Driving into town with my little angel man, I was looking desperately for a Vietnam restaurant. What does it look like that is different from other noodle shops in town ?

Soon we came to a business that had a blue tarpoleum front porch, and blue chairs and tables underneath and there was a rode up a hill to the right. I thought this has to be it, and asked my angel to stop.

Sure enought it was Vietnamese. After stopping I saw a sign in Vietnamese. So I started walking up the hill to fine Alan.

It was a small hill, but gosh these little hills are still steep!

Mid way up the hill I saw a building with some pleasant people standing outside so I walked up - said hello - SAA BAA DEE - and said - Alan?

They all immediately pointed to the door next to them, and I walked up and stuck my head in - and voila, Alan came out!

I had made it!


The NGO's were having a conference on how to best educate and help the Tribal people in this area.

They had recently found that several villages spoke a dialect that was not known to the outside world.

Among the people at the conference were and American anthopologist and her husband a lingistics expert.

The conference was very interesting and imformative. Two days were in villages interviewing villagers about their culture.

There were government officials from the capital, Vietniane, and from the district government.

An interesting point is that the government basically does not want the hill tribe people having there own language and especially a written language.

But the new concept is that indigeounous people can in fact have their own language - written , but it should be written in the national language script, in the alphabet of the national language.

This concept is acceptable to National governemnt officials,and has proved to help indigenous people learn the National language.

Four great days, - very interesting.

I left Muang Mai Saturday morning, on the back of a piuck up truck (three hours beforee the bus). Then the pickup caught up with the bus, and I got on it while itwas making a pit stop.

The bus took me to Udomxai, where I am now.

March 26th Udomxai, Laos
I have a great hotel room, and wi-fi in the room!

The really nice thing about this town is that they actually have restaurants that have food other than noodle soup and fried rice.

Last nite I had french fries and fried eggs for supper.It is now my favorite meal!

The weather here is COLD. It is over cast and rainey. I hope it gets warmer tomorrow.

March 28, Monday, still in Udomxai
It was cold Sunday. Very uncomfortable. And all the restaurants , although pretty good, are all open in fronts. There was no place warm!

I spent most of the day in my NICE room .

I say the restaurants are good - well that actually means they have baguettes, eggs, and french fries. I tried curry vegetables for lunch - I'm now looking forward to having eggs and french fries for supper tonite!
This morning I decided to stay one more day
Its a little warmer but still over cast. Later.
April 2, 2011 On Wednesday - , I left Udomxai and took a 6 hour bus to Luang Prabang. A great tourist town.
The next day i took a crowded van to Prongsaven headed toward Vietnam. That trip was 11 hours.
The next morning at 6:30 a.m. I caught a bus headed toward Vien Vietnam. This was an 10 hour bus ride . There were two Belgium women traveling on the same bus. The only westerner I would see for days.
In Vien I took a night train to Danang and in Danang I went to the bus stationand got a ticket for Kontum that left at 11 a.m.
This gave me time to eat a good brunch. The little bus station shed restaurant had grilled turkey legs ! I ordered a turkey leg and rice, and boy was it good. Not tough, Delicious. Thebiggest piece of meat I have ever had in southeast asia except the steak house in the capital city of Lao.

At 11 o'clock i got on the van that held 19 people.
When we got on the highway we had over 32
I couldn't actually see everyone.
I was in the back left corner with a window.
I couldn't get out quickly, but it was a comfortable place on a very crowded van!
The real clincher was when we stopped, the bus was full, and the driver opened his door and a man got in and rode in the seat with the driver. The passenger was on the outside.!
I don't think the driver had much actual control over the vehicle, just keep it level - keep it straight!
The trip was 6 hours long.

That night I got a great room at the Viet Tram hotel for $9.00. It had hot water, towels, soap, two toothbrushes, shampoo, is air conditioned, but not needed, tv, hot water, and wi fi in the room!
I'm tempted to stay another night, but feel I must press on to Ban Me Thout.

BMT was my headquaters during the WAH.
I finally found a village with the same name as my A Detachment. It is about 70 kilometers north of BMT. 130 kilometers south of Pleiku.

I am about to leave for Pleiku, two hours, and then on to BMT.
I hope to see a road sign or something as I ride south past the area of my old camp, on the way to BMT.
The chances are slim to none- I will see anything , but the hill the camp was on, and the villages should still be there.
have seen no other westerner since Danang, the two women.
So I'm off - will write when I get to BMT. Hope I fine Buon Blech.

A couple of bus "toilet"stories,
The borders here in Laos and Vietnam have very nice buildings, very orderly, and kinda clean.
Just the kind of place you would expect to find nice rest room facilities. After all its government operated, the clients are people entering your country for possibly the first time. A good opportunity to show a friendly face and show and an efficient governement.

Well, that's in my eyes. Not theirs.
These nice border stations do not have dirty or smelly rest facilities, they have NONE. - Actually just like Central America, except these buildings are so much nicer and newer than in Guatemala and Honduras.

The bus company, in order to resolve this problem, ... and not having everyone on the bus running to the woods instead of to the immigration windows, at the border crossing, the bus we were on just made a pit stop about 2 miles before the border. ,br> Of course there were no toilets where we stopped - just bushes on the other side of a big ditch. If you wanted bushes, JUMP over.
Most of us just used the short grass along the highway!
The women did walk further away from the bus, and some jumped over into the woods.

NO, I was not looking, but as I came back to bus, I could see women coming out of the woods down the road a piece.

Of course they are all used to this type rest area, or at least most are. Some women never get off the bus, and I mean for hours and hours.

On other occasions I have been embarrassed by the fact that I got off the bus, walked down the road a bit, stood facing the bushes - AND NOT be able to go! Standing there in the wide open - just standing - doing NO business. It's embarrasing. I don't think anyone really notices, but they could!
the problem it presents however is that I know I need to go! I haven't been in several hours, and its now gonna be a couple of more hours before we stop again! Thats a problem.!

Another bus story,written April 2, 2011
When I got to Danang on the train it was about 9 a.m., so I went directly to the bus station looking for a bus to Kontum, or Pleiku.
The bus stations in large cities are gong show zoos! People and buses all over everywhere!
But there is always an order to the mess, and when I walk into one of these ZOO's men(hawkers) always are trying to get me on their bus. What I then do is just say the name of the town I am trying to go to - and they point me in this or that direction . The further you go, the closer you get to your bus!
Finally someone isyelling the town you are looking for, and when they see you nod, they start guiding you to the bus, where you can put your pack, and then asking you to get on the bus. No matter how long it is before the bus leaves.
They want you on their bus and away from the competition.
It is always comforting when you find yor bus
So in Danang, I found my bus, but it was a 19 passeger van.
Not bad, and I was early so I went to throw my bag in a good seat up near the front, but the ticket seller/bus assistant/money collector told me no. That my seat was in the very back - last on left. I said no, and that I would get another bus. He said okay ... and walked away.
He was not supposed to do that! He was supposed to say okay.... HE DID NOt. So, I reapproached him - now eating CROW, and said okay, but for less money.
He said NO, and walked away.... So I walked away.
.... But I came back - paid full fare - and got in the seat in the far back left! So much for bartering and wheeling and dealing!

friends having
Rice Tortilla

April 3, 2011 Yesterday I checked out the neighborhood around my hotel and only found one restaurant.
There were other places to eat but not restaurants.
I planned to eat supper at the restaurant, and tried one of sidewalk places for lunch.
For lunch (very late lunch) I ate a piece of cold chicken (another turkey leg)and some warm rice, well almost warm.

I looked forward to supper.
About 7 I walked to the Hotel that had THE restaurant.

The desk clerk said that since the Hotel only had a few guest , the restaurant was closed for the night!
But that yes it would open tomorrow.
So - back on the street looking for dinner.

About two blocks away I came across a sidewalk food booth with tables.
I mean they had a full kitchen set up out side on the sidewalk.

There was a large vat on a gas stove ..... frying chicken/turkey legs!
There seems to a theme in this section of Vietnam about Turkey legs!

Yep, thats what I ordered. .... A turkey leg, hot out of the oil.
No rice, no funny vegetables, no gravies, just one leg.
I paid for the stuff I didn't eat, but that was okay, I don't think I could have eaten it anyway.

I finished my dining out by buying two cream filled "little Debbie" type rolls to take to the room and have with coffee (good ole homemade Nescafe instant). -- I say LIKE "little debbies", a long way from them actually.

Back at the room, ..... a very nice room. Nice windows, good breeze, hot water, roman toilet, toilet paper, towels, soap, toothbrushes, a wall fan, plus air conditioning if it was needed. It wasn't.
I also had a TV with about 50 channels. Four in English!
One was cooking show on how to make some Japanese dish and other cultural shows, the others were all slash and burn grade B ACTION movies..... Another good night for reading my Kindle. Currently a Tom Clancy novel that I got from a Kindle gift card from my son Adam at Christmas.

APRIL 4, 2011- Ban Me Thout, Vietnam

I am leaving BMT this afternoon for Danang.

I have a ticket on a bus with what I think is a real bus company-(they had an office).
There were two buses leaving today, one 30 minutes before the other.

The second bus cost $2.00 more than the first bus, so i bought that ticket. It cost $14.00 and takes 13 hours. Its an overnight bus. I'm only hoping that for the money, its a nice big chair bus!
No one at the office spoke ANY English, and none of them seemed to have any interest in helping a foreigner.... but that's okay, just makes uncertainity a little more prominent!!

STORY: I forgot to mention this. The other night in Kontum, I had the window open to my room and there were no screens.

The bed had a mosquitoe net tucked away over it but I decided not to use it.

Several hours after falling asleep I was awaken my a mosquitoe buzzing my head so I got up and pulled the net down over the bed. The weather was cool enough even with the net down around the bed, that I went easily back to sleep.

Mosquitoe nets usually cause the bed to be hot, so I was glad of the cool weather.

A while later, I was awaken by scratching and tearing sounds from the bed next to my bed. When I heard the noise I realized I had left a small pack of cookies - open- on the other bed! Then there was a squealing and fussing noise! Mice, I hope not rats, were eating the cookies and fighting over them.

I had a flash light with me inside the net, and turned it on, but because of the net,I could see nothing.

I got up , found the cookies, and set them on the window sill, then they rolled off to the ground.

Back in bed, under the net, I remembered my bunk in BMT during the WAH.

I shared a room with 4 other officers. One night one of them woke up with a mouse chewing on his ear! ...... From that night on we all slept with mosquitoe nets tucked securely under our the mattress.

So, 43 years later, .... I again tucked the mosquitoe net securely up under the mattress!. Some things seem to never change!


The currency in Vietnam is called the DONG.
The current exchange rate for Dollars to Dongs is 21,000 Dong per U.S. Dollar.
The denominations begin with a 500 dong, 1000,- 2000, - 5000,- 10,000,- 20,000,- 50,000, 100,000, -200,000, - and the big one the 500,000 Dong note.

Plenty of money! and a real pain to keep straight!

The new money is very slick,almost like thin slick plastic. It doesn't feel like money, and it surely doesn'tstack good, its to slippery.

So when I exchange a $100 bill for dong I get 2,100,000 Dongs! It's kinda fun to have that much money untill you buy a small bottle of water for 5,000 dong, or breakfast for 25,000 dong.

My $14 bus ticket cost 285,000 dong! The point being, the DONG flies away by the thousands! I paid my hotel bill this morning,two nights, 400,000 dong.

Back during the WAH, at my A Camp we received the payroll money for our Montagnards soldiers in large red mail bags.

All the money was brand new, the majority of the bills were blue, and just printed.

By the time we finished paying all the soldiers -(600 of them) - my hands and the hands of my Executive Officer were stained BLUE. It took several days of washing to get the dye off!

Now the money is not blue, but the 10,000 Dong and the 100,000 Dong are very similar in color, and I have given the 10,000 several times to pay for a 40,000 meal.

I guess I'm not use to seeing so many zero's on a bill, and my brain reacts to 4 zero's as a lot of money.

I am met with this stare like "what are you doing"?

There is no offer to explain, the person just stands there holding the money and staring at me!

I now understand the problem, so when I get the "stare", I check the amount of money I just handed the merchant and correct my error. Its only - embarassing, and that's just pride I guess, so I just shake my head, smile, say thank you in English and leave, wondering will I ever learn!

Nice bus ride
Day time Bus layover - Hoi An, Vietnam

You know, sometimes - SOMETIMES - things work out good!
for instance my bus ride last night!
I wrote yesterday that I had paid $2.00 extra for a bus that left 30 minutes later, but I wasn't sure I would get for two dollars.

I went to the bus ticket counter office downtown where they had told me to check in.
A few minutes later a van pulls up, and the driver indicates for me to get in the van. Okay, thats good., then he shows me a piece of paper, kinda like a complicated rooster and seating chart, and he points at a name/seat/place and then points to me.

It ain't me on the list! --- and I notice the time is seven not seven thirty.

Nothing would do however but lets go to the bus station.

At the station, at my bus company, there was a regular bus.

I asked was this my bus, and showed a new man my ticket. With great relief, I was told NO, my bus would pull in right here at 1700 hours.

So - that made me feel better. At Five a hugh bus pulled up, double decker, pretty, no broken windows, clean and inside - 3 rows of double deck lounge seats/chairs/beds!

Needless to say I was estatic! This was going to be a highlight of this part of the trip.

I know, I know, but little things like this - well I just enjoy the moment.

It turned out to be just as good as I hoped. Even the meal was good. The best rice and beef I have had in country.

Dinner was sort of intimidating because we all sat at one table, close, and I had to use my chop sticks!

Another man finally got up and got three or four spoons and passed one to me. I do not know if he actually wanted one or was just trying to help me with out embrassing me at the table.

At first, I continued to my stickes, but then when the attention was gone, I grabbed that spoon and ate me up some rice, gravy, string beans and beef tips!

I slept very good on the bus, and it did make numerous stops on the side of the rode for toilet time!

I got off every time, but some of the times I just stood there - nothing! Getting old! Gotta stay tough!

Arrived in Danang this morning at 7 a.m., and took a bus out to a little tourist town where I am now.
don't know when I will send this.

My next bus leaves for Hanoi (written HA Noi here)at three this afternoon.

I paid extra, bought the most expensive bus ticket, and the ticket girl indicated it was a sleeper.

Lets hope so!

Took the night bus - now in Ha Noi Vietnam

The question - will this ride be as good as the one last night? ...Well unfortuanately NO.
It was a sleeper bus just like the one I had had the night before, but my seat location was for the birds!
In the back, over the axle I think.... Kinda bouncy.
But the part that was the worst is that my little bunk,and they are all small, was even smaller than normal!
Maybe not shorter, thankgoodness, but access into the bunk was hampered by two ladders that gave me just enough room to sit down backwards in the bunk then pull my legs in! Almost claustophobic!!!!!

I resolved not to FRET, but it was hard not to.!

Once settled in, and continuing to tell myself not to fret, I got comfortable, pulled out my Kindle and Sudoku book and had a good ride for the next 14 hours.

Again the dinner at the bus stop was included and was again very good.
This time however I just could not get my chop sticks to work at all! I was struggling trying to get a piece of meat on my plate when the guy next to me, punched me and pointed to the spoons!

Having already shown my inability to eat with chop sticks, and my willingness to try to use them, I picked up a spoon and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the dinner.
The menu was just about the same, based on rice,with two meat dishes, vegetables, and other funny things

That reminds me, I forgot to tell about time I stopped and selected a sidewalk cafe to eat at because they had french fries. They were the only shop that had them. I ordered a coke and french fries, but the girl did nopt understand me.
Usually when they sell something western they understand when someone ask for them. This time -no understand, so I get up and go to the counter and point to the platter of french fries. I noticed however that something was not right about the way they looked. I looked again and saw that they were CHICKEN FEET! I changed my order and had noodle soup.

On the sleeper buses another interesting thing was that you must remove your shoes when you get on the bus. They give you a plastic sack to put your shoes in and there is a little compartment under your seat for shoes.

When the bus stops and you get off the bus, they have a basket of flip flops that you slip on as you step off the bus. And when you return to the bus, you kick the flips off into the basket and climb aboard.

After two times I started carrying my own shoes off,because I could hardly get me toes in the small flips flops.

The ride t o Hanoi cost $18.00. The cheaper bus with no beds was about $2.00 less. It was a 14 hour trip - long but when you get a nights sleep and have no hotel expense, its a good deal! I think.

Oh yea - Since I left Laos days and days ago, I have been traveling as the only westerner in my bus, in my hotel and restaurants. I did see some western tourist in Ban Me Thout but they were not at my hotel. I'll write about Hanoi tomorrow, there are alot of westerners here.

Just some photos of travel
to ENLARGE photo, single click on photo, then to RETURN photo to orignal size, DOUBLE click on photo.
Bus Station
Lunch in
Point to
get off Bus

Ferry on road
to Udomxai
Rest Area
bus stop
View from
a motorbike
Bike to
Lao Border

Cane juice
Drive thru
Men's Room
my bus nest
Just sitting

Hanoi - Picture tour around town
to ENLARGE photo, single click on photo, then to RETURN photo to orignal size, DOUBLE click on photo.

Johnny at POW
Hanoi Hilton
the nicer
The same

Hotel room
porch, hanoi
view from
hotel porch/div>
Sidewalks are for
parking bikes
flower market

More around Hanoi
Carry three
Cool Car
Flip Flop
flip flop

APRIL 10, 2011 Hanoi is quite a busy city. The driving here ... I really do think brings the world crazy driving up a new level. Not so much the cars, there's not that many of them, but the motorbikes are crazy! There seems to be no rules even which way you go on a one way street.

Crossing a street is dangeerous, not from avalanche of motorbikes, it's the one going the wrong way that you're liable to step in front of it if you don't see it.

When a biker sees you crossing he and you adjust your speed and direction so that you miraculously miss each other.But when you never see the one coming from the wrong way and he assumes you do, and you step forward! ,..... it can get CLOSE and dangerous! Yes, I know ....from several experiences!